Why Your Next Favorite Notebook Will Be From New Leaf Paper

An environmental leader in the wholesale paper company makes an attractive retail debut that appeals to its audience by not ‘screaming green.’

Designers Accord


New Leaf Paper has made high-quality recycled paper since the 1990s in the hopes of inspiring a fundamental shift toward
environmental responsibility in the paper industry. But for a long time their product lines of coated, uncoated, and board grade papers were only offered wholesale, so even if their example was shining, their impact was subdued. As brand partners since 2007, the Willoughby Innovation Lab helped bring New Leaf to the mainstream, making it the first 100% recycled paper offered in major retailers like Office Depot.

New Leaf Paper

The majority of New Leaf Paper products use 100% post-consumer fiber, far higher than the industry standard of 30% post-consumer fiber found in most recycled products. Processing is chlorine-free, and in addition, New Leaf has another line of paper from Costa Rica that uses byproducts from banana and palm tree farming. Packaging also encourages consumers to recycle.

New Leaf wanted to make its debut to a wider audience by creating
a 100% recycled line of notebooks equal in quality, paper brightness
and weight to virgin paper. Since there would be no discernable difference betwen the papers, the designers decided on a strategy of producing a stylish product that just happened to
be green. “Just because a notebook contains recycled paper doesn’t mean it has to
scream “THE WORLD WILL END IF YOU DON’T RECYCLE” across the front
cover,” says design director Zack Shubkagel. “A little subtlety goes a long way.”

new leaf paper

Launching the new line put the team from Willoughby Innovation Lab in front of some of their most discerning consumers: Students aged 12-18. Working closely with New Leaf brand manager Winette Winston, the designers employed ethnographic studies and focus groups and the findings suggested that this age group was, in fact, not comfortable wearing
green on their sleeves. “They wished to quietly support a more
environmentally responsible product but feared blasting that to the
world on the cover of their notebooks,” says principal Ann Willoughby.


In designing the brand, the designers took a fashion approach: They eschewed “green” notebooks for normal-looking ones that happened to be eco-friendly, then added cool designs or different colors to stand out on the shelves. Taking the iconic black-and-white splotches of the traditional composition notebook, the designers reinterpreted it using a macro crop of a leaf’s veins. The leaf-pattern composition became a top seller at Office Depot.

new leaf paper

While New Leaf’s products don’t overtly say green, the designers we able to play with the available graphic space on the notebooks to provide more information about its sustainable production. The designers used the inside front cover of all notebooks to deliver a consumer reinterpretation of New Leaf’s Eco-Audit, a set of facts and information previously provided to their wholesale business to designers and printers. “The consumer version puts the environmental savings into laymen’s terms and tries to communicate the abstract nature of recycling and post-consumer waste,” says Shubkagel. “This education serves to make consumers smarter, and encourages other products to be more accountable.”

It was Jeff Mendelsohn, founder and CEO of New Leaf Paper, who pushed the envelope even more in sourcing, forming a partnership with the the organic food company Annie’s Homegrown to repurpose its unused make-ready press
sheets from their packaging into the Foundspace line of journals. Detachable and reusable keychain rings allow for
easy disassembly and recycling of the book. The designers also added a reuse factor for notoriously one-timer stationery items with a new take on the traditional greeting card. The Karma Card has two lives, first as a greeting card, then–by perforating the cover of the card–the recipient can forward the card to another person as
a postcard.

new leaf paper

Since the Office Depot launch in fall of 2007, and an additional launch at Whole Foods in summer 2008, New Leaf has gone head-to-head with mainstream brands. An extensive new line of New Leaf products launched nationwide in Target stores this month including social stationery, art paper, premium paper, back-to-school notebooks, journals, fashion notebooks, composition books and products like the Foundspace journals and Karma Cards–none of it employing the “green guilt” that the designers saw so often in competing categories sharing shelf space.


But for all its sustainable features, the price point for the New Leaf
comes in a bit higher than conventional papers–more fashion than commodity. While this presented a
challenge for the designers to deliver higher quality work at a lower budget, they took the opportunity to examine their own productivity and manage their
time more efficiently while working on the project. “More proof that you don’t have to sacrifice style and convenience to make responsible choices,” says Willoughby. “That’s our favorite part.”

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About the author

Alissa is a design writer for publications like Fast Company, GOOD and Dwell who can most often be found in Los Angeles. She likes to walk, ride the bus, and eat gelato